The Academy of Vocal Arts opened its 88th season of fully staged operas with a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
The Academy of Vocal Arts opened its 88th season of fully staged operas with a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Performances ran from Nov. 11 through 29 in AVA’s Helen Corning Warden Theater in Center City, Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center, and the Haverford School’s Centennial Hall.
“La Traviata” is the third of three operas Verdi composed during the 1850s that launched his “middle period.” The first of these was “Rigoletto” in 1851, followed by “Il trovatore” in 1853. “La Traviata” received its world premiere in March 1853, in Venice’s legendary opera house La Fenice.
Prior to this seminal trio, Verdi’s style remained safely within the strictures of post-bel canto/early romantic traditions in Italy and its plethora of municipal opera houses. From “Rigoletto” onward, however, Verdi adopted a more emotionally direct and structurally concise approach to setting the librettos given to him. Little by little, he broke down the absolute boundary between recitative and aria by making more use of arioso, a format somewhere in between the two. He also began choosing librettos that were less mythological and more realistic in their narratives and conflicts.
Of his 26 operas, “La Traviata” (his 18th) was the only one set in his own time. Francesco Maria Piave based his libretto on “La Dame aux camelias” by Alexandre Dumas, whose 1852 play was based on his 1848 novel of the same name. Although the play was a favorite of Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse, famous actresses of the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s now virtually never produced. It lives on, courtesy of TCM, via the 1937 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, “Camille,” starring the even more legendary Swedish actress, Greta Garbo.
Although I’ve often wondered how well Piave knew the original French script – so many of its most telling lines have gone missing – his libretto gets to the heart of the story of a young woman whose earlier life as a Parisian courtesan now prohibits her from having a life with a young man whose future unavoidably will be tainted by the woman’s reputation. The narrative dispels any notion of there being a happy ending. It goes so far as killing her off altogether through “consumption,” the 19th century name for tuberculosis. Talk about not getting a second chance.
AVA’s production was conducted by its music director Christofer Macatsoris and stage directed by Dorothy Danner. The former led his singers and the AVA Opera Orchestra with passion and panache while the latter transformed the tiny space of the Warden Theater’s stage into the setting of tragic drama.
Soprano Emily Margevich made a convincing Violetta, the naïve courtesan who hopes against hope that she can change the trajectory of her life with her first true love. She sang the coloratura passages with brilliance and strove mightily to get to the end of Verdi’s far-too-long death scene.
Tenor Matthew Goodheart cut a dashing figure both visually and vocally as Alfredo, Violetta’s knight in shining armor. Baritone Benjamin Dickerson masterfully combined superficial bourgeois morality with deeply felt compassion as Giorgio, Alfredo’s understandably concerned father.
Peter Harrison’s set design and Val Starr’s costumes and wigs were worthy of Metro’s fabled team of Cedric Gibbons, Adrian and Sydney Guilaroff.
East Fall’s K. James McDowell is AVA’s president and artistic director. For more information about its season, call 215-735-1685 or visit avaopera.org.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, celebrated the end of the liturgical year with a Choral Evensong for “The Feast of Christ the King” on Nov. 20. Renditions of music by Gerre Hancock, Edwin Monk and Rupert Jeffcoat were enhanced by an improvisation at the postlude by the afternoon’s guest organist, Robert McCormick, music director of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Center City.
St. Paul’s music director, Andrew Kotylo, led the parish’s Adult Choir in the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” from Jeffcoat’s “Third Evening Service” and Hancock’s “Judge Eternal.” Set according to the ancient Latin texts, Jeffcoat caught both the joy and reverence in the “Magnificat” and the mystery of the “Nunc.” In both, Kotylo elicited singing of the purest tones. In the Hancock, they proffer a broad spectrum of dynamics.
McCormick’s improvisation at the conclusion of the service was the second heard by me of the day. He improvised on the closing hymn earlier at St. Mark’s Choral High Mass, as well, each time building a sonic edifice of inventive variation.
FESTA di NATALE!
Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will present “Festa di Natale!” Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program will focus on the late Medieval and Renaissance traditions of celebrating Advent and Christmastide in Italy. For more information call 215-235-8469 or visit piffaro.org.
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